Nancy Drew and I go way back. I distinctly remember my mom taking me to “Toys R Us” when I was five years old to pick out my first book in the series. I didn’t know who this Nancy was but apparently my mom loved Nancy when she was a little girl and that was good enough for me. Staring up at the yellow spines, I picked my first book based on the cover. I chose “The Phantom of Pine Hill” which depicted a picture of Nancy in a blue pleated skirt dress and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson dressed as an Indian walking up a cliff in pursuit of a prowler in the distance.
Nancy Drew books are big girl books so my mom had to read the first few out loud to me. We sat on the couch and I watched over her shoulder as she read chapters to me. I think this is how I learned to read. Once I knew the story, I would go back and re-read the books on my own. Within a few months, I was flying solo and completely hooked.
Those of you that know my mom committed suicide know that I read Nancy Drew books as an adult whenever I need to feel close to mom. Re-reading some of the books helps me reclaim happy moments with her from my childhood. But reading Nancy Drew books also helps me relive the entire span of my childhood for I read Nancy Drew well into my pre-teens.
In particular, Nancy Drew reminds me of summer. I spent all my school breaks in Wisconsin with my grandparents, traveling from San Diego to Madison and Milwaukee. Therefore, not only did I read Nancy Drew on the plane, I pretended I was Nancy Drew on the plane, for she too traveled a fair amount. I looked for suspicious strangers in the airport and took note of everyone sitting around me on the plane. When my grandmother and I would travel out to various local sites and “eat luncheon” at a quaint restaurant along the way, I likened this with Nancy’s hometown of River Heights.
Nancy Drew was privileged. She lived in a spacious home with a circular driveway bordered by flower beds. She drove a convertible, didn’t work and any time a mystery required travel, her famous attorney father would book her and her two best friends flights. I drew parallels. I grew up somewhat privileged and lived in a spacious home with a circular driveway. I too lived with my attorney father who also booked me flights for myself and an occasional friend. And like Nancy, I tried to be kind, courageous, intelligent and independent.
I’m sure Nancy went on to marry Ned Nickerson and continued leading a fabulous life solving mysteries. Mine took a different turn. The father I tried to convince myself was Carson Drew became a narcissistic drug addict and I definitely don’t lead the life of leisure of the eighteen year old Nancy. But I still love her dearly. I love her spunk. I love her talent. And I love her intelligence. I love the wholesomeness of a different era and the good memories reading about her adventures evoke in me.
Yes, the books are outdated and in some ways racist and classist without meaning to be. Yet in other ways they are timeless. Because in the Nancy Drew series, a modern lady of class and substance was born. And girls today need role models. If I were a girl today, I’d read Nancy Drew in search of such a role model. And as a big girl, I still get a kick out of reading Nancy Drew – searching for that role model and a little summer escape.